Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

This is Critical Moves, a column on my opinion about decisions within the game industry and how it affects the games that come out of it. I’ve written a lot about the different events that happen within the industry, like monetization and controversies surrounding games that are either facing controversy or another event of similar arousal to that of a controversy. However, almost every time I’ve written something involving a trend in the gaming industry I have to tackle the detailed and complex conversation about that one concept to a game. That’s why with this, I won’t focus on one game unless it’s important for the subject that I wish to cover and will go deeper into certain strategies and events that often happen around games in the industry.

It was clear to everyone that the system of Steam Greenlight wasn’t worth the amount of hype that it was given at its launch.

When does a game first launch? The first trailer? The first look at gameplay? For me, the answer is obvious. A game’s first launch is when the very first version of the game is released to be played for the public. Regardless of whatever state it is in, there is no doubt that while the consumer plays the product for the first time, concrete opinions are formed about the game and what the game might become. It hardly matters what happens after that. We have seen in the past just how powerful that first impression of gameplay can be to the success of a game. That is why it baffles me that the concept of early access became so popular to the gaming industry.

While an extremely small portion back then, the concept of early access since its birth has become a massive part of the current gaming sphere. Why has this happened? I’ll tell you that none of this would have gotten off the ground without the powerful influence of the almighty juggernaut of the PC gaming space, Valve.

On Aug. 30, 2012, Valve changed the face of their gaming launch platform Steam forever. Steam Greenlight, a system that allows even everyday people to have a chance of putting their game out for the masses to play was released. People triumphed this feature because at the time Steam, was considered far too stingy about putting games on their store.

How it worked was that all these games that were potentially on Steam’s digital shelves were showcased as products that people could vote for their addition to the actual store; a great system for those who have struggled in the past to get noticed. Just make a quality product that people might enjoy and you’ll be given the votes needed to actually sell your game.

However, as time went on, that appreciation for the service became an absolute loathsome place where half-finished products were cobbled together and simply thrown out into the Greenlight submission page. It came to a point where potentially great ideas for games were being buried under a sea of unfinished products that looked more alpha than beta in terms of quality.

There were even repeat offenders of the system that attempted to game the algorithm by flooding the page with completely copy-pasted gameplay across dozens of submissions. There was a lawsuit that was made out for $10 million to a critic of one of these repeat offenders, but that’s a story for another time.

It was clear to everyone that the system of Steam Greenlight wasn’t worth the amount of hype that it was given at its launch. However, there were great games that indeed did come out as early access titles that were greenlit through Steam Greenlight. One particular game was “Darkest Dungeon”, a masterpiece of turn based RPGs that really changed the way typical mechanics worked with insanity and even the light of the dungeon you explored. The most fascinating part about early access though comes out when you realize a very interesting truth: people remember the game’s early access launch more because it was what they remember as their first experience in the game. At least Darkest Dungeon felt finished even during early access, but some other projects were less so.

A weird trend emerged from the early days of Greenlight to even now. This idea that these early access games will at some point be finished is a nice but naïve sentiment. Some games on the Greenlight page were given good reviews simply because they looked, “promising.” Not good or even passable, “promising.” This “promising” statement was a way of stating that, while the game looked trash now, it could possibly be better later; a completely delusional sentiment that shows just how noncommittal the industry was at the time.

… the idea of early access sounds so promising until you realize what exactly you and the system have done to gaming as a whole.

Anything can look promising. You could convince a person that a bar of soap could soon become fancy cuisine as they scarf it down now and tell you that it sounds “promising.” That’s like looking at only the exterior bits of a car, being told not a single thing inside the car is finished yet and telling them it’s “promising” when you truly don’t have a clue what kind of engine or wheels will come out of this shell of a presentation now. Oh look this completely mundane snore-fest of a demo is literally just a pre-bought asset of a dragon flying above a pathetic excuse of a ground texture, “oh what promise.” Look at that car game that runs as smoothly as one vomits a live hedgehog with the frame rate jittering between still-life and PowerPoint presentation, “oh what promise.” Such a lack of forward thinking rivals even the horse-powered car.

The Steam Greenlight service has been dead for some time at this point. 2017 was its last gasp of air as it was killed and replaced by Steam Direct, a service that just lets the games on the platform without any sort of filter, oh great. So what does this new service have to show for itself? A game where you kill trans people and literal propaganda supporting the dictator of Brazil. Better luck next time, Steam.

With that said, the idea of early access sounds so promising until you realize what exactly you and the system have done to gaming as a whole. While the idea allows people to have an idea of where the game’s going as well as supporting the studio while it is being made, there are so many things that you must avoid to prevent yourself from looking like they’re running off with people’s money. The term itself is so dirty that some companies have used a completely different term to mask their identities as early access games: roadmapped games.

Edward Park is a second-year student majoring in English education.

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